The Tijuana Brass – Junior High Style

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass first hit American radio in 1962 with the single, “The Lonely Bull” on A&M Records. (Fascinating fact, according to Wikipedia, Herb Alpert recorded The Lonely Bull by himself, overdubbing his trumpet, with a few studio musicians. It wasn’t until the release of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” in 1965, which outsold “The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and The Rolling Stones – that Alpert had to turn the Tijuana Brass into an actual touring ensemble rather than a studio band.” (Herb Alpert – Wikipedia)

In 1966, three 7th graders at Mackinaw Middle School in Saginaw, Michigan, decided to form a band to play Tijuana Brass music. David Vasey played lead trumpet, Ken Spicer played 2nd trumpet, I think our first trombone player was an 8th grader named Randy, our first drummer was another 8th grader, named Mike. I played the piano.

Our band teacher, Harry Wallerstein, encouraged us every step of the way. In junior high band we were already playing popular songs like “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles, and “Spanish Flea” by Herb Alpert, so we were already familiar with the style of music.

We didn’t know if ensemble arrangements were available for Tijuana Brass music but were excited to find the entire original scores at a local music store. We each took our parts home and started practicing. We all played together for the first time at our house in the small den where the piano was. When we started playing we couldn’t stop laughing because it sounded so good! I even called my grandmother and made her listen over the phone (the kitchen phone hanging on the wall).

Naturally, we named our band “The Lonely Bull”. That first year we played at ladies’ auxiliaries, and 8th grade graduation. We even played in the back of a pick-up truck in the Little League parade along State Street in Saginaw Township.

8th grade boys playing instruments.

At the start of eighth grade two new members joined our group. Mark Breithaupt played trombone, Mike Hamlin was our new drummer. Tim Apsey joined as our manager and played percussion.

Mr. Wallerstein continued to support our efforts, and our other teachers, remarkably, allowed us to go to the bandroom to practice almost any time we wanted to. (I did forge Mr. Wallerstein’s “H.B.W.” a few times.)

Trumpet player David Vasey playing a song.
Dave Vasey was a great trumpet player. I hope he continued to play as the years passed.

A highlight of our 8th grade year was winning the all-school talent contest. It was an important event at Mackinaw and student participation was high and enthusiastic.

We took our band to Solo & Ensemble Competition, which every band student knows is an exciting experience. We played to a large crowd and the response was loud and lively. Unfortunately, the judges wouldn’t give us a score because they said the music was outside routine competition music, and we didn’t have music scores for them. I also played a memorized piano solo but didn’t receive a score. Piano wasn’t recognized as a Solo & Ensemble Competition instrument at that time.

I don’t remember how we were contacted by The Saginaw Township Times. A reporter came to our school in May, 1967, to take pictures and interview us. We were all dressed up and playing our music in the gym after lunch. A big crowd of students surrounded us as the Times reporter listened.

“The Lonely Bull” was a junior high school band of 6 boys.
The reporter didn’t expect much from a bunch of junior highers, but he was pleasantly surprised when he walked into the gym at Mackinaw Middle School.
8th grade boy, Dale Parsons, playing the piano.
I can tell by looking at my fingers, we were playing “Spanish Flea” when this photo was taken.

The end of 8th grade was also the end of “The Lonely Bull”. When our freshmen year of high school rolled around many things had changed, as they always do. I continued playing the music on the piano just for fun. If it were possible, it would be a blast to get all these guys together again and play Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass music.

Front page of Saginaw Township Times, May 24, 1967.
Three flags and propeller-driven passenger plane.

I lost my mother and father to cancer forty-three and thirty-three years ago, respectively. This Saginaw Township Times paper from May, 1967, survived. I carefully unfolded the crumbling pages to find this story, still very fresh in my mind.

– Dale Parsons, piano player for “The Lonely Bull”.

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